Prayers echoed around me, not in reality, but edging at my thoughts. I allowed my fingertips to rest against the thick colored glass, cold to the touch, and pale shapes of blue, gold, and red bathed over me. In my mind, the echoes of organ music and vague Latin words played on, swimming in and out of comprehension. It was always there.
The church was silent as I traced over the patterns on the window. In my other hand, I held my rosary. I counted off the beads on it, one by one. My hold on it loosened and I let the beads that I'd already counted gather at the bottom of the loop, clinking. The crimson color reflected light from the overhead fixtures of the high-arched ceiling and made them shine, glossy like miniature cherries. I gathered it into my hands and stared at it for a long moment, pondering their meaning.
Just counting beads. The rosary itself really had no significance. Not that I knew of. Merely a counting device. I wondered if it was bad to think about them that way. If it was, that was just another admission for confession later.
And how many rosaries would it take before I was forgiven for something like this? Something worse than trivializing the rosary. For keeping this sort of secret?
"As many until you've reached perfect penitence," the priest would say. "Until you've asked for forgiveness out of love of God and not fear."
I wasn't sure if that would ever happen.
And that's what bothered me the most.
The voices of the parish priest, Father Reynolds, and my mom filled the auditorium suddenly. Heels clicked against polished tile flooring that gleamed beneath the large chandelier's artificial light.
"Thank you, Father," said Mom, a weightless sigh escaping as she adjusted the purse strap at her shoulder. "I've been meaning to get that off my chest for a while now." Before he could reply, she turned her attention to me. "Let's go now, Hannah. Your father's waiting in the car."
I let my hand drop to my side, clutching the rosary. "Can't I just meet you at home?"
She blinked, hand pausing as she ran it through her short hair. "You have other plans?" There was no condescending tone to her voice, but it was still obvious she was a bit annoyed. Although why, I was having a hard time figuring out.
"I just wanted to take a walk."
"Make sure you don't come home too late," she said tiredly, sighing. "I'll keep your lunch in the microwave."
Numbly, I nodded. "Okay. Thanks."
She turned, smiling as she bid Father Reynolds goodbye, and then left the church, shoes clicking all the way.
I turned my attention to the window again.
When I was younger, coming here would always relax me. Not to the window, but the church itself. No matter what I did, whether it was cheating on homework, or swearing, or letting Scott convince me that "one joint won't kill you", I could always come here, unbeknownst to my parents, and confess. It was something that I could always take comfort in. Something that I had practically thrived on.
"Hannah," Father Reynolds' voice startled me and I nearly dropped the rosary. "Is something bothering you?"
I turned around, tearing my gaze away from the images, and shook my head quickly, offering a smile. "No. Just looking."
"Problems with your parents?" he pressed, hands folded neatly in front of him. Always so composed; it was kind of weird, really. I wondered if he would still be so proper even if I told him what was really bothering me. Not that anything was.
"I was just looking at the window," I insisted, the hollow half-sincerity obvious in my voice.
"You know, I haven't seen you in the confessional for quite some time now," he said leadingly, pushing his thin-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose.
I hooked one of my fingers over the edge of my watch band, tugging. "Yeah, I've been meaning to." Added a fervent nod for good measure. "I've just been really busy with work and everything."
He nodded, smiling warmly. "Whenever you're ready."
As expected of a priest to say.
"I - I have to go now," I mumbled, glancing towards the entrance, where the open doorway allowed light to pour in.
He nodded again, as if to give me permission to leave.
I offered a meager wave and exited the church.
Passing the parking lot, I gave it a brief once-over as I searched for any trace of Mom's car. She had left, thank goodness. Well, technically, Dad had left. He always waited in the car whenever Mom went to confession; she tended to take a long time.
The sun's glow was dulled by scattered, thin clouds. I slipped the rosary into my pocket and glanced over the street before crossing to the other side.
The cemetery looked empty, aside from a small group of people gathered around a gravestone at the opposite entrance. I passed through the black wrought iron gate that had the letters H and C worked into the design.
Various graves had flower arrangements and bouquets positioned either beside them or on them. As expected. I eyed each momentarily, not really looking, because I'd seen them all so many times before, and continued down the first path that ran parallel to the road.
The names weren't familiar, mostly. I knew my great-grandmother was buried here, but the rest of my family that had passed away were at the East End Cemetery, on the other side of town. Most of the people here had died about a century ago - some more, some less. It had been full for years.
Elisabeth Vassel had been the last one.
The thought made my stomach turn, briefly, and I tried to shake the feeling, focusing on something else. The heat. It was sweltering, as usual. Humidity was thick in the air, heavy, and it shifted my thoughts to the age-old wish that I lived somewhere within at least thirty miles of a beach. It was always so stuffy in Halcyon.
Sighing, I stretched my arms out above me, letting a low grunt escape. My stomach growled, kind of loudly and I sheepishly glanced over to where the other group of visitors were. Too far away to have heard, I determined, optimistically as I reached the end of the path. I turned onto the one adjoining it, walking alongside the rows now.
I hated cemeteries.
At least, that's what I wanted myself to think. I didn't want to let myself come to the conclusion that it seemed like graveyards were the only place I ever felt relaxed any more. Whenever I wasn't with Chase.
Somewhere between the first time Chase had asked "Can you keep a secret?" and realizing, by the third time, that he was serious, the cemetery had replaced the church when it came to confessing.
I thought, stupidly enough, that perhaps only Elisabeth could be the one to understand.
A myriad of not-so-appetizing smells drifted into the dining area from the kitchen of Yellowfin's, and I made it a point to breathe through my mouth instead as I began to wash off the last row of tables. I'd been at it for nearly a half hour and was falling somewhat behind in my cleaning schedule. Especially because Lindsay and Ali had decided to ditch again.
Scott was. . . well, I wasn't sure where he was, truthfully. Somewhere in the back, I estimated. There was only ten minutes until the restaurant opened, so there was a very good possibility he was off somewhere smoking.
I scrubbed at a crusty spot on the second to last table, applying more pressure as it proved resistant. They always were, it seemed.
I paused in my cleaning, glancing over my shoulder to see my employer, Williams, standing behind me. Within a few feet of him was a girl who looked about my age. She was chewing on her lip, eyes nervously flitting from side to side.
"Yes?" I answered, my gaze falling to Williams again. He reminded me a bit of the actor Joe Pesci. Just in stature, really. I didn't picture him as a mob boss. Not without stretching the imagination farther than I cared to.
"You're being promoted, congratulations," he said quickly, thrusting a folded-up apron into my hands. "Nat here really needs the work, so you're moving up to sous-chef." He pointed with his thumb to the girl behind him. "She's taking over your shift."
I took the apron, a bit hesitantly. "But I don't cook."
"Doesn't matter. You'll just be helpin' Russell."
"Okay," I mumbled, forcing a nod. "Thanks."
"Pay doesn't go up, though," he added, almost as an afterthought. Before I had the opportunity to say anything in return, his attention turned to the girl and he ushered the two of them towards the other end of the restaurant.
Since when did we need a sous-chef, anyway? Russell had never had any kitchen help before. Williams was always obsessed with keeping costs low; it was hard enough to even get him to consider letting Scott fill out an application. And why the term sous-chef? That made it sound like I'd had training or something.
I stepped into the kitchen, beyond the pick-up counter, which was where I was accustomed to stopping at, somewhat hesitantly. I already knew that I wasn't going to enjoy this, and turned the apron in my hands. I'd been in here plenty of times before, if not only for the fact that it led to the back exit of the building, and while I'd passed through many times, I had never really taken the chance to look around. I surmised that now would be a good time to do so.
It was incredibly messy, as expected. On one side were two stoves - one of which was new, while the other looked like something pulled out of the Victorian Era - lots of counter space, and a sink. Towards the back was the walk-in cooler, and beyond that, I knew, led to the hallway, which eventually led to the door that opened into the parking lot. The wall above the stoves was splattered with dried on food remnants that I didn't care to take a closer look at.
Russell was at the counter, chopping or slicing or dicing or whatever the hell he was doing to the poor, sickly looking radish, and it took a moment before he noticed my presence. His brown hair was slicked back and tied into a short ponytail, exposing the two piercings on each ear that resembled the skull-and-crossbones insignia. Altogether, he rather resembled the food he created - greasy - and I tried my best to muster up a smile.
"Hannah Banana," he said, both suddenly and rather annoyingly. "I see my killer charm has finally brought you over to the dark side." He grinned widely, dark eyes turning to slits. "Looks like you're stuck with me here in the galley."
I tried to hide my look of disgust as I unfolded the apron. It was black in color, and definitely not new. Wrinkled and smeared with something-or-another, I was a bit hesitant to put it on. "This isn't a permanent position."
"I can show you some better ones," he said, chuckling. Then added quickly, "Positions, I mean."
Yeah, like that really needed explaining.
"Can you. . . not do that?" I asked after a moment, casting him a dark look as I untangled the apron ties. I fixed the two larger ties around my waist, then began to work on the knot for the ones that would anchor around my neck.
Russell watched me, still leering. "Need me to tie that for you?"
"That's okay, I've got it," I mumbled. Several seconds passed, which felt like hours, with him staring at me, and I finally managed to tie them. Sighing, I asked, "What do you want me to do?"
"Well I dunno," he said, feigning hesitation as he tilted his head to the side. "What would you do?"
I indicated the stove, irritation mounting. "As far as cooking goes, okay? Please don't pull this shit. I'm really not up for it."
"Ah, testy." He shuddered, grinning, and grabbed a cutting board from a pile of kitchen appliances near the walk-in refrigerator. "You're gonna be tons of fun." He handed the plastic cutting board to me, gesturing to the counter. "That one's for fish. The wooden one's for anything else." Clearing his throat as he crossed the kitchen, to the left stove, he continued, "Just hack up the cod, batter it, and throw it on the skillet."
Oh, okay. And silly me had thought there was something called "cooking" involved. . .
I went to the counter, washing my hands at the industrial-sized sink, and tossed a glance in Russell's direction.
He was watching me.
It wasn't just me, either. He was like that with everyone. The girls, at least. I'd never seen him hit on a guy, but with how desperate he came across sometimes, who knew?
Wiping my hands off on the apron - because there wasn't anything else to dry them with - I stationed myself at the portion of the counter on the either side of the stove, opposite from where he was working.
I eyed the small fish that lay beside the cutting board briefly.
"They're already gutted and scaled," Russell put in, helpfully.
"I know I am."
It took all of my willpower not to voice a comeback to that, so instead I concentrated on figuring out how to best mutilate the poor cod fish.
That would require a knife, I realized, glancing around. None in sight.
Russell suddenly appeared at my side, knife in hand.
"Want me to show you how to do it?"
"The fish," I said, just to make sure.
I moved aside, allowing him access to the fish, and watched in muted silence as he ran the knife through the fish, cutting them into little strips. Didn't look bad, I had to admit. Except that it wasn't fresh cod - just packaged frozen stuff shipped in from yesterday. Thank God the people here didn't have refined palates.
"Like that," he mumbled, handing the knife off to me. I nodded.
The three hours following didn't go so bad.
At least, not as bad as they could've. I was still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that Williams had so easily shoved me out of the way to make room for a new employee. Not that I really cared, but it annoyed me a little. I had specifically applied for waitressing - over a year ago, that is - because I knew I was crap in the kitchen. The only thing I was halfway decent at was cutting things, which, I supposed, translated to prep work. Besides, cutting was something I was good at.
And all I really wanted was to see Chase, dammit.
It was nearing seven o'clock, which meant that I was just about halfway through my shift. By now, the appetizers had all been served and we were moving on to entrees. I was relegated to mincing oregano and de-veining shrimp while Russell hovered over the stove, burning things and cursing every now and then.
Oh, the joys of being promoted. At least as a waitress I wasn't stuck with one person all the time. Maybe that girl would quit and I could get my old job back. That'd be nice.
Of course, daydreaming would get me no where. Especially with grease-boy staring at me.
"The fish is burning," I muttered to him, glancing at the blackening edges of the salmon on the skillet nearest to him.
"Yeah, no shit."
My eyebrows arched. "Aren't you going to do something about it?"
He shrugged, leaning against the counter, spatula turning in his hand. "It adds flavor."
"Russell," I growled, sighing in frustration as I nearly squeezed the shrimp I was holding into mush.
"Ooh, I like that," came his oh-so-genius reply. "Louder."
I shot him a look. "Shut up."
"You get mad fast."
"No I don't."
"Mm." He let off a nod, finally turning his attention to the stove. He started to mumble something that I didn't quite catch, nor care to. The scent of burning fish permeated the air, tainting it, and I narrowed my eyes in concentration as I resumed threading the veins out of the jumbo shrimp.
I wondered, briefly, what kind of family you would've had to come from to turn out like that. I didn't have the slightest inkling as to what his upbringing was, aside from the fact that he had been known at school as being the local dope fiend who would sell his family's trinkets and treasures if it meant getting his hands on any. Since then, from what I'd heard, he'd been kicked out of his parent's house. Now, miraculously, he worked here. I really couldn't see the connection. Maybe he was a friend of Williams or something.
"Hey, Hannah Banana."
I looked up, meeting his gaze. "What?"
"Would you say I'm damn hot," he asked, tone oddly serious as he busied himself with something at the stove, "or smokin' hot?"
I decided not to dignify the question with an answer.
The next three hours couldn't pass quickly enough.